If you're reading this, you're probably like most parents. You know that Snapchat exists, your kids want to use it (or are already using it), and you're terrified about the whole thing.
All you know is that they can use it to send and receive nude pictures and it's just a short hop from that to being kidnapped and sold to a Satan-worshipping cult.
Let's get the scary part out of the way.
Yes, your teenager could use Snapcat to send and recieve all manner of inappropriate pictures. Even worse, you won't know they're doing it because those messages will disappear before you sneak onto their phone to check it!
Guess what? That's true about every single other social media platform and piece of technology they use. This is not an issue with Snapchat. Your kids can do stupid things and delete the evidence so you never see it!
There is no technological solution to this problem!
Instead, you have to talk to your kids. You have to help them develop the skills to make good choices online, even when you're not hovering over them.
Hmmm, that process sounds familiar. Oh, yeah. It's called parenting. That's what you're supposed to be doing anyway for everything else. Being online is just another part of life and you don't get a free pass from helping them navigate it.
It's not that hard though. You just have to impress upon them one simple truth.
Putting something online means it's there forever, even if you think you can delete it.
My basic rules are these (and these work for grown-ups too):
- Don't put anything up you're going to regret
- Don't share any naked stuff[^1]
- Don't harass or bully anyone
WTF is Snapchat anyway?
This part will be pretty brief. See the Additional Reading at the bottom for lots of good information.
Snapchat is a social media platform for instant messaging and sharing pictures & videos.
You take a picture or video (Snap). You can apply a variety of silly filters, stickers, captions, etc. Then you can send it to a friend (or group of friends).
You can choose how long a Snap is visible to whoever you send it to (1-4 seconds). The recipients can view the Snap 2 times and then it's gone. They can always take a screenshot but you'll get a notification if they do.
You can also chose to post the Snap to your Story. Your Story is just an ongoing collection of Snaps. Anyone following you can view the latest 24 hours worth of Snaps posted to your story. You can also go back and delete stuff from your Story and view some fun statistics about who's viewed what.
That's basically it. Simpler than you though, right? [^2]
But why bother?
I hear this one a lot. Why do you need Snapchat when you already have Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/YikYak/Viber/WhatsApp/etc/etc?
To an extent, you're right. Most of the stuff Snapchat does can be done in other ways on other platforms. But I think that's an oversimplification.
There are a couple of things that make Snapchat special:
It's more frivolous. Instagram, for example, has positioned itself as the place to show high-quality images in a more curated collection. Snapchat has no such baggage. You can post silly, mundane nonsense all day and it doesn't matter. It's a little more like a real conversation. You get to experience a moment with someone else but it doesn't have to be preserved forever.
It's also easier for people to keep up with the Snaps/Stories they want on their terms. The big three (FB/IG/Twitter) all operate on a stream principle. You don't get much control over what you see. It's easy to miss things if you haven't checked for a while. Plus it's easy to see content you don't really care about at that moment. There's just a big firehose of data and you have to sift through it. The Snapchat Story model makes it easy to pop in and look at the Snaps for the people you're interested in at any given moment. Plus you don't have to worry about annoying people by posting too much. They get to decide if they're going to watch whatever you're doing.
Should I let my kid on Snapchat?
I have no idea. It's up to you to decide if they're ready or not. If they don't have a lot of online experience, let them start a private Instagram account as a way of getting their feet wet.
In the meantime, take a look at the Additional Reading below. Download Snapchat and try it for yourself. You might find out that it's pretty fun.
Take a look at these great articles if you want to know more about the history of Snapchat and how it all works.
“The Snap Generation: A Guide to Snapchat’s History” by @garyvee
"How to Use Snapchat", Wired's guide for old people
"My Little Sister Taught Me How to 'Snapchat like the teens'" by Ben Rose
[^1]: Obviously children shouldn't be sharing naked stuff. It's a little more nuanced for grownups. Sexting and the like can be part of a normal, grownup, sexual relationship and that's totally OK. What's never OK is to share nudes without permission or steal nudes you weren't meant to see. A common response is "Well, they shouldn't have taken those pictures to begin with" and that's a bunch of a shit. People have a fundamental right to privacy.
[^2]: There's a whole thing about Streaks and Snapscores that I'm not going to get into but you can learn about it in the Additional Reading above.